9 Reasons You Can’t Help But Love Anky van Grunsven

She’s a normal person just like you and me! Except, like, REALLY REALLY good at dressage.

From Carley:

Dutch dressage phenom Anky van Grunsven is accomplished in the nth degree. She’s a 20-time National Champion and eight time World Cup Champion. She holds the record for the highest number of Olympic medals won by an equestrian athlete (NINE). And the record for the most successive Olympic wins. (THREE Gold Medals! IN A ROW.)

If that uber-success weren’t enough, which, let’s face it, it is. She’s ridiculously charming to boot. So even if you didn’t want to like her, it’s awfully hard not to. You might as well just go ahead and embrace the awesome-ness that is Anky.

1. Once upon a time, Anky was afraid of riding…

“When I was six my parents bought me a pony, a Shetland. She was really difficult. I was afraid to ride her. I would only brush her,” says van Grunsven.

scared little girl


2. Then she became a horse whisperer.

“One day I was at school and my pony got loose. My father—he was horse crazy—spent hours trying to catch the pony. But she wouldn’t let him near her. Finally, he pulled me out of school and brought me to go catch her. I walked into the field and called [her], ‘Heleentje,’ and she came running over right away. My father couldn’t believe it! He was so angry,” laughs van Grunsven.

“I tell people I’m a horse whisperer.”



3. She changed the world (in a good way)

Riding her famed mount Bonfire, van Grunsven’s gold-medal-winning freestyle performance at the 1994 World Equestrian Games marked the first the time event had been held at the Games. And “changed the world of dressage forever,” according to fellow Olympic gold medalist Carl Hester.

4. And she did it on a horse that didn’t always move well, no less.

“All my horses look really bad in the paddock. Bonfire looked terrible loose!” she laughs.



5. Now she’s basically the queen of all flat riding.

After winning her third consecutive Olympic Gold Medal, van Grunsven took up competitive reining. And earned a spot on the National team.

“Reining is a fun thing. It’s my hobby. After winning the third Olympic medal, I needed a new challenge to stay inspired. A family friend bought me a Western saddle, so I had no choice,” she teases.

“It’s not my goal to be the World Champion. I’m in the dressage business. I only compete in reining between dressage competitions. But I think it makes me even more aware of things—the rein is looser, there’s more speed. In dressage, it’s so easy to fiddle. You can’t do that in reining.”

Anky reining

[Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games]

6. Her “hobby” took her to the World Equestrian Games.

In 2010, van Grunsven competed on the Dutch Reining Team at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky. “It was so exciting. Really wow! Reining is a different adrenalin. And, of course, I like the flashy clothes,” she smiles.

7. On top of that, she’s BFF’s with show jumping super star Edwina Alexander-Tops

…by Twitter standards. van Grunsven and Australia’s Edwina Alexander-Tops tweet each other on the reg.

“I know Edwina. She’s tough. A strong woman. I like that. And I think it’s wonderful to see women dominating at the top of the sport,” says the Dutch rider. “I really admire her.”

8. She’s still afraid of one thing though…

“I’m too scared [to take up show jumping]. The fences are too high! I jumped a lot when I was little, riding ponies. I tried cross country, too. Why not try everything?” she says.


9. And she’s not above making people cry

In 2006, van Grunsven won the World Cup Final in Las Vegas for the seventh time. (She’d win it again in 2008). At the press conference following her Freestyle Kur a woman stood up and thanked van Grunsven for her amazing performance. And then burst into tears.

“It happens regularly. I’ll be approached by people after a class and they’ll be crying or have tears in their eyes. I think it has to do with the music; it brings out that emotional reaction,” she says.

“I think some horses tend to bring out more emotion than others, as well. Bonfire was one of those horses. He’s so expressive and sensitive. People really responded to him.”


Go Anky!

Carley Sparks covers show jumping and related ridiculousness at getmyfix.org.


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